A colleague told me of an intriguing incident at a conference of accountants that were studying recent changes in tax regulations. One speaker gave a talk on recruiting new staff and how to deal with turnover. An attendee then asked a question remarking that from the context of her presentation, it seemed companies were facing recruiting cycles of two or three years, especially from new graduates.
The speaker replied that this was true. The newer generations tend to migrate to other jobs quickly and unexpectedly. The days of stable employment lasting decades or even a lifetime are over. Today’s recruits will frequently walk away from a job just as a change of pace.
The questioner responded by saying that surely the employee could be retained by an offer of more money. The surprising reply was that money did not seem to make a difference. Sometimes the new job paid less or involved different skills. An accountant, for example, might migrate to being a receptionist because he or she just prefers to do so. The changes appear almost whimsical. While not every person will necessarily follow this pattern, the speaker said to expect people to make these walk-away decisions after only two or three years on the job.
The conversation impressed me but did not surprise me. I had witnessed this instability in my interaction with others including younger people. However, this striking example at a conference for serious accountants got me thinking. Everything seemed to click: Ours is a walk-away world.
Living in Ambiguity
Our walk-away world is an ambiguous place where people do not like to define things. They prefer to act upon impulses.
I do not blame this walk-away world on the new generation. In fact, I think it is the product of successive generations, including my own, that have succumbed to the intemperance of our times. We want everything now, instantly and effortlessly. We expect our desires to be gratified at once. We manifest immediate annoyance when they are not satisfied instantaneously. We are accustomed to walking (or clicking) away.
This world is not like that of more defined generations of the past with their radical rhetoric and activism. They took defined philosophical stands and enlisted impassioned youth to advance their causes. Their radical stands expressed the immobility of their positions, their refusal to concede to pressures.
However, in a walk-away society, everything is based on emotion, image, and impulse. Today’s #hashtag activism is short-lived and empty of meaning. Activists seamlessly walk away from the thrill of a one real or fake crisis to the next. In our frenzied news cycles, ideas are rarely debated rationally. When something offends activists, they simply walk away from the “microaggression” or problematic truths that invite their mature reflection and judgment.
The Destruction of Institutions
I believe one of the main reasons why people walk away is found in the breakdown of institutions. In a short period of fifty years, people have been given the option of walking away from the institutions that anchor us in reality.
It was once understood that society could not survive without the institutions of family, community, and faith. This understanding kept society cohesive, prosperous, and ordered. When this notion of order was challenged in the 1960s, it unleashed today’s fragmented and anchorless world.
Thus, everything has become walk-away. Cohabitation, adultery, same-sex unions, rampant divorce, and other evils make for walk-away marriages and families. Contraception, sterilization, and abortion are nothing but walk-away parenting.
So many other institutions suffer from similar devastation. Nicholas Eberstadt in his book, Men Without Work, laments the walking away of millions of men from “what we think of ordinarily as adult responsibilities not only as breadwinners but as parents, family members, community members, and citizens.” He rightly characterizes this abandonment of duty and responsibility as “infantilization.”
Indeed, others like Sen. Ben Sasse have written about youth who “adult,” which means to do a specific adult action while insisting upon remaining an adolescent. Sociologist Robert Putnam has documented the dramatic increase of those who walk away from all forms of civic involvement.
Walking Away from Truth
As dangerous as the walk away from institutions is, the walking away from the truth is worse. Institutions anchor us in reality, the knowledge of the truth encompasses how we know reality.
It is symptomatic that we live in “post-truth” times. In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries awarded the term its “word of the year.” Rebecca Goldstein notes that in their commentary on “post-truth,” the Oxford editors pointed out that “post” in this context did not refer to a subsequent time reference “as in postwar or postgame” but rather to something that has become “unimportant or irrelevant.” People have not necessarily denied the truth but just walked away from it.
Again, this walking away was facilitated by opening up the option of walking out. It was caused by the abandonment of the Western canon of literature, logic, and philosophy that is the basis of modern thought. This “liberation” ended up fragmenting what was once unified thought into a restless search for whatever pleases.
Today’s man walks away from the discipline of definition and logic. We accept the most blatant contradictions and blurring of distinctions. It gives rise to the fake news that destroys certainties. There is a shallowness of thought that is facilitated by social media. Changing from one experience to another is just a click away.
The walk away from the truth is particularly seen in the deconstruction of identity in which people question who they are. They self-identify as whatever they imagine themselves to be. Some even go to the point of fragmenting into several identities, “genders,” or online avatars based on the whim and imagination of the moment.
The Walk Away from God
The worst devastation of our walk-away society is found in the walk away from God. It is only through love and knowledge of the Creator that we find meaning and purpose in life. We are made for God, as Saint Augustine says, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.
Our society does everything possible to facilitate this walk away. Many are the false gods in our modern pantheon—individualism, materialism, health, wealth, hedonism and others. There is no more hellish existence than the worship of these false gods, which will always deceive and never keep their promises. However, the worst of these gods is when people set themselves up as gods. They then experience the tyranny of their enslaving passions.
The walk away from God is made worse by the crisis inside the Church that has confused and led so many astray. People no longer find the certainty they crave. Instead, they stumble into new theological trends that promote a walk-away morality. They find infantile services, which represent a general walk-away from our duty to worship God. A feel-good spirituality walks away from the Way of the Cross. Even the idea of God is no longer a just yet benevolent God but a being that suits our every fancy.
Restless and Searching
Thus, it is no surprise that people are frustrated—even in the business world. It should astonish no one that young people are so affected since they are empowered with an increasing number of ways of walking away. This can especially be seen in our culture’s obsession for escape found in the experience of drugs, sexual promiscuity, and virtual fantasies.
However, it is this ever-increasing restlessness that might provide a response to our walk-away world. When societies lose their bearings, they often generate an intensely contrary movement whereby people start pondering their origins, purpose, and fundamental assumptions. In this case, it would be the Christian wellspring from whence they came. Some people in our walk-away world are now searching for causes to embrace. In spite of the crisis, they look to the Church for the faith, hope, and charity they lack. With the discreet help of Divine Grace, they seek out the God from whom they once fled.
More importantly many are coming to realize that the problems we now face have no human solution. They are so grave and ubiquitous that there is no walking away from them. They then learn that the only solution is to confide in God and the Blessed Mother, especially in light of the Fatima message. They will never walk away from us.